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National attention for a local artist

Belle Menne will have her painting displayed in Washington D.C.

Getting around Shannon Park Elementary School can be a challenge for Belle Menne. The fifth grader has been diagnosed with Krabbes Disease, a condition that has confined her to a wheelchair and which severely limits her mobility. Her mind is still full of beautiful pictures, though, and one of those pictures has earned her a little national recognition.

Last week Menne learned one of her paintings will be on display at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Shannon Park art teacher Stephanie Stahl entered Menne's artwork, a self portrait, after discovering the contest while posting student artwork online. The theme of the contest is self portraits and inspirational things.

Menne likes painting. She particularly likes to paint rainbows, the night sky, water and flowers. Her contest entry is a self portrait against a night sky.

"What I like about Belle, this girl has so many ideas," Stahl said. "It's not always the same thing. There's been quite a few flowers and things like that, but she's painted hands with cool nail polish designs."

Creating those paintings is not easy. Menne can't hold a paintbrush on her own. She uses an adaptive tool strapped to her hand. It's a modified version of a tool she uses for eating.

Painting her contest entry took two class periods, about an hour. She can move her hand forward slightly and make a downward stroke with the paintbrush, but that's about it.

"If you could watch her work, it's really amazing, because her mobility is very, very slight," Stahl said. "The fact she works so hard to paint, she has to enjoy it. It's quite a bit of work to paint."

Menne has to work hard to form words, but ask her about painting and it's clear she enjoys the activity. She smiles and her face lights up. She has been painting since at least second grade. Ask her if she likes to be the center of attention, as she is in the Shannon Park art room at this particular moment, and she shakes her head. But she said she is proud and excited that her artwork was selected for display.

Stahl was preparing to send off Menne's artwork Tuesday. It will be on display soon in Washington, D.C.